Henri Bensussen is currently weeding her garden and watching a gopher drill its way to a flower bed of its choice, and also sending out poetry manuscripts to contests, checking off rejections, etc. Last year her chapbook Earning Colors was published by Finishing Line Press; she hopes this year will bring some good news too.
A report on the importance of memoir by Henri Bensussen
Last month’s Mendocino Coast Writers Conference newsletter announced the 2016 conference presenters and their workshops: Laura Atkins (Writing for Young People), Reyna Grande (Creative Nonfiction), James W. Hall (Novel and Mystery), Lori Ostlund (Short Fiction), Jessica Piazza (Poetry), Les Standiford (Master Class in Narrative Structure), Jordan Rosenfeld (Emerging Writers), and Brooke Warner (Editor/Publisher).
One of the perks of being a member of the conference board is the opportunity to sit in on one of the workshops. Finally having resolved to begin work on a memoir of my odd family, I’ll be tempted to try Reyna Grande’s Creative Nonfiction, though Les Standiford’s Narrative Structure would be valuable, or, if I fashioned my story as mystery (how did I end up in this family??), I could try James W. Hall. So many choices.
A few weeks ago at a retreat, trying to get myself grounded in my story, I read Mary Karr’s latest, The Art of Memoir. She likes memoir's “democratic aspect” (anyone can write one, if they feel passionately about their story). She describes memoir as “episodic” (novels have plots, but history has a series of scenes). “Readers want reality,” she says, “a coming of age, a survival and overcoming. . . . If you are a worrier, apologizer, or thinker, then memoir is for you.” That pretty much describes me, I thought, feeling more optimistic. Maybe I could really do this.
Her book goes deep into memoir’s various elements. One thing that stood out for me is her focus on the importance of the opening paragraph. “The split or inner conflict (some aspect of the writer’s struggle for self, a blazing psychic struggle, the reason driving you to tell this tale) must manifest on the first page and form the book’s thrust or through line—how the self evolves over time and reconciles this inner conflict: a journey toward the self’s overhaul by book’s end.”
Since the retreat was a silent one in a former convent, I couldn’t share the book’s ideas with anyone, so I spent a lot of time writing them out. My notebook filled with quotes from Karr’s book that I didn’t want to forget. Which brings to mind the reason memoir is so important—that we write these stories not only of our pasts but of the times and cultures we lived in, a necessary history that enlarges the arc of the human story.
“The poets seem to be only more frank and plain-spoken than others. Their verse is but confessions. They always confide in their readers, and speak privily with them, keeping nothing back.” —Henry David Thoreau
Click on "Comments" above or below the post, then fill in the form, or click on "Reply" of another comment to add to that comment.
SHARE on your Facebook or Twitter, hit the buttons: